Ed Murray takes primary aim at McGinn

The state senator talks about why he is challenging Seattle's mayor in the Aug. 6 primary.

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Ed Murray during an interview

The state senator talks about why he is challenging Seattle's mayor in the Aug. 6 primary.

If elected Seattle's mayor, Ed Murray wants the city to develop a Seattle transportation master plan, with a regional component, within a year.

That's so the city can lobby Olympia for the needed dollars and legislation in a timely manner, said the state senator and mayoral candidate. What that master plan will look like is up in the air with Murray saying hard data needs to be crunched first with the city's residents and interest building a master plan on top of that information. "It's letting the data pick the modes (of transportation) we use instead of us getting into mode wars," Murray said.

Right now, no priorities — along with funding sources — have been mapped and ranked for overall improvement of Seattle's transportation picture, he said. Murray contended the city needs to work with other Puget Sound governments to mesh everyone’s transportation improvements efficiently. "You have to come up with a plan that people will actually buy into," he said.

And he wants Seattle to study and copy the best pieces of transportation plans and funding approaches in other cities. Murray visited with Crosscut writers and editors on Thursday, one of a series of inteviews with the mayor candidates.

Murray, 58, is one of nine people running for mayor in the Aug. 6 primary. He is one of four — along with incumbent Mike McGinn, Bruce Harrell and Peter Steinbrueck — who seem to have the best chances of being the two who survive the primary. So far, Murray tends to target McGinn much more than his other primary opponents. Most of the candidates, including Murray, are liberal Democrats trying to slice up 50 shades of blue voters in an essentially one-party city. 

He is a transportation and government wonk, who worked for then-City Councilwoman Martha Choe before assuming a Washington House seat in 1995. In the House, he served as chairman of the transportation and capital budget committees at different times. He moved to the state Senate in 2006, eventually chairing the Ways & Means Committee and was one of the architects of Washington's law legalizing gay marriage in 2012.

In late 2012, he was the apparent heir to Senate majority leader until he got relegated to minority status eader after Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch joined 23 Republicans to take over the Senate.

That situation invites questions about Murray's frequent claim to being a bridge-builder among disparate legislative factions, a major plank of his campaign that he uses to whack the sometimes-combative McGinn. Murray's 24-member minority Democratic caucus found itself frequently powerless and on the sidelines during the last six months in Olympia. Murray said the Tom defection had a history unrelated to his own leadership.

"I inherited a situation where the atmosphere was fairly poisonous," he said.

Murray said Tom told him prior to the November 2012 elections that he would defect if the opportunity to create a new majority materialized. And that is what happened. Murray described Tom — who has served in both the House and Senate and has switched sides twice — as unhappy in almost every legislative caucus he has belonged to. Tom felt shunted aside during the the 2012 Democratic Senate budget process, according to Murray. That may have prompted his last-minute support for a 2012 Republican budget and later switch to the other side of the aisle.

Allies advised Murray to stay away from leading the Senate Democratic Caucus when previous leader Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane retired, saying that the likelihood of Republican-oriented coup would hurt his plans to run for Seattle mayor. However, Murray described himself as a compromise choice thrust foward between the Senate's Democrats’ liberal wing and the “roadkill" moderate wing that sometimes crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans.

When asked why he wanted the mayor job, Murray said it was time for him to leave the state Legislature and jump into Seattle politics. "The easiest thing for me to do is to go on as a state senator," he said. "But I've got some accomplishments (largely on budget and transportation matters), and it's easy for me to slide out."

For the past six months, Murray has served in Olympia with Gov. Jay Inslee, a longtime U.S. Congressman who has sometimes struggled with the switch from legislator to a chief executive — just the kind of transition that Murray wants to make. However, Murray pointed to other former legislators who made the transition successfully, including former Gov. Gary Locke, who served in the state House of Representatives for 11 years prior to becoming a respected King County Executive and then governor.

Murray claimed no illusions about the difficulty of being a big city mayor with numerous constituent interests pounding at him. "I know people will get angrier over their traffic circles than people angry over their [state] health care plans,” he said.

Some of Murray's views and campaign planks also include:

  • The top priority of whoever will be Seattle's mayor in 2014 will be police department reform. Murray criticized McGinn's initial resistance to a U.S. Department of Justice fix-it and monitoring plan for a police force with several public black eyes. Murray contended that initial resistance has slowed down eventual reforms by years.
  • Building on a cooperative theme to expand light rail in Seattle's neighborhoods after digesting data and feedback. He wants to renew Seattle's transportation levy for street, bridge, bike and pedestrian path maintenance.
  • The city government needs to become more involved with Seattle's schools, but he does not want Seattle's government controlling the schools. He said during the interview that the public is unlikely to want a takeover of schools by the city, but the city government should help the district look at other governance options that might speed improvements. He also said city expertise could help in such areas as demographics and school district planning on where to put new schools. Murray supports expanding early education programs to 4-year-olds 

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8